Improving Leadership: How To Be An Impactful Leader In Your Organization With Ed Batista

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Gracing this episode with his expertise is Ed Batista, an executive coach. Ed recounts his flashpoints leading to his coaching career. He also shows his expertise in working with leaders by providing insights on managing relationships with key employees, improving leadership team dynamics, and transitioning from technical expert to leader. Ed brings so much value to the culture established in the company and how leaders should care for themselves. Why don’t you pause for a minute and ponder how effective are you as a leader? How much impact are you making? Tune in to this episode with Ed Batista and find value in being an impactful leader in your organization.


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Improving Leadership: How To Be An Impactful Leader In Your Organization With Ed Batista

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Ed Batista. He has been an executive coach since 2006 working with senior leaders who are facing a challenge or would like to be more effective or fulfilled in their roles. He also spent fifteen years as a lecturer and leadership coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Most of Ed's clients are technology company CEOs, but he works with leaders in fields from investing to healthcare. Issues he addresses with clients include managing relationships with key employees, improving leadership team dynamics, and transitioning from technical expert to leader. He also works on evolving company culture and better self-care.

Ed's work as a coach began after fifteen years in a career in management during which, he took two years off to earn an MBA at Stanford and helped to launch three new organizations. Ed is married to Amy Wright and they lived in San Francisco until 2020 when they relocated to a farm 40 miles North of the city where he lives now. I can't wait to hear more about this, Ed. I want to welcome you to the show.

It’s my pleasure, Tony. I'm delighted to be here and the honor is mine. Thank you for having me.

I've been a fan. I’m reading your newsletters and blogs. You infused the sense of being out on the farm and also all of the amazing insights that you've taken from your journey. I feel like I know you intimately already.

I’m glad to hear it. I began putting the newsletter out the month that we moved to this farm in August 2020. It's been a labor of love. I have a lot of fun pulling it together. I try to make it personal. This is a unique opportunity in our life to be able to live here. It's one way of trying to share that experience with others. I'm always happy to hear that people find it interesting.

You have a fan here, but I want to make sure that we generate some more fans out there by sharing your story of how you got to make such an impact and how you amass such amazing accomplishments that you have already. I want to do this through what's called flashpoints. These are points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world. I want to turn it over to you in a few moments and have you share these flashpoints that you're called to share. You can start wherever you like and we'll pause along the way. Let’s see what comes up for you.

I love the term flashpoint. When you shared it with me, it got me thinking about various eras and some critical moments in my life. The first one that comes to mind is the most important. It's related to an exercise that I've done with many groups, groups of students, and groups of clients in which I ask people to reflect on the most important years of their lives. It’s the most important and not the best. Those are usually different.

The interesting thing about this and what I've observed is whenever you ask people about the most important year of their life, it's usually about a tale of overcoming a struggle. There's a challenge and, hopefully, something good happens in the end. That's very much the case for me. The most important year of my life was and always will be 1986. I began as a bit of a hot mess.

I was in the middle of my freshman year at Duke University, which is a fine school and it was a challenging place for me. It was a drift. I didn't know why I'd gone to college. I thought about taking a year off and not going to college. My parents said, “We don't think that's a good idea. Why don’t you go to school?” I did but I was at sea. I decided I am going to I'm going to take a break from school. I was an artist. As I mentioned, I wound up spending a couple of years in Boston going to art school although that came later.

I don't know what I'm going to do. I withdrew from school and gave it some thought. I took a vacation in the middle of that period and went down to the beach, the Maryland Shore, which is where kids from my high school went on vacation after graduating. As a consequence, I began dating a girl named Amy Wright. I came back from that vacation head over heels in love and with a newfound determination to chart my course.

She was going to Dartmouth. I was like, “Boston is the nearest big city to Dartmouth. Boston has to have an art school.” I went up to Boston. I got accepted to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. My parents were extremely tolerant and very supportive. They said, “You want to go to art school. We'll pay your tuition, but you got to go get a job to pay rent.” I was like, “I can make that work.”

I began the year as a hot mess. I was very lost. I ended the year getting my act together. I didn't stay in art school that long. I was only there for two years, but it taught me to take control of myself. The thing about art school is you have to have your own direction. Nobody is going to tell you what to do, especially at the SMFA back in those days.

The thing about art school is you should have your direction on what to do.

I also ended the year very much in love with a keen sense of the direction that our lives would take together when we were still kids. We met when we were 17 and 18. There was plenty of drama remaining in our collegiate careers, but we are still together now. That year will always be the most important year of my life and the first flashpoint that I will mention here.

There's a sense of those moments when you feel that it’s dark times. It's on the doorstep of light. The light comes through the darkness. It's funny how one thing turns on and then other things start to come from that. Even if it is not forever career-wise at least, there's a sense that you start to see, “I feel good in one year in my life and it has a follow-on effect.” You start to see that you can and do things some things in other areas. It doesn't have to be all figured out, but it can be something that you can play with, at the very least. I don't think that, for some reason, I feel like you might have been lost if you didn't have that connection to love.

It became a starting point in terms of making decisions and choices and then orienting ourselves because we graduated together in 1990 and we didn't know what we were going to be doing with our lives or professionally. At that time, and this may be another flashpoint, I suggested, “Let's go to San Francisco.” I had been there once with my family. We had taken a vacation many years previously. It struck me as a romantic enchanting city because my point of comparison was New York in the late '70s and early '80s. It’s where my parents lived and where I was born. We visited and I had friends in college.

Amy was like, “Sure. I’ll give it a whirl.” She had never been there. We did. We drove across the country. We landed there and began making a life. It turns out that we wound up living there for 30 years. Who could have predicted that? It was forming a life together, a partnership, and beginning to make some decisions on that basis that have influenced everything else that I've done.

That's awesome. I love the fact that you just up and left and did this into the unknown. It’s not completely unknown to you, but you've never lived out in San Francisco on your own like that. That's a big bold move at the age that you are at that time. It was still relatively young.

It was wild and it was easier back then. At that time, San Francisco was less expensive and more functional. It would be harder for folks to do that now. We had a lot of help. We had families who were very supportive and encouraging of us to go ahead and take some risks. We had lots of social support that was very important to us. Certainly, it wasn't just us on our own. It was the members of our families and community.

Here you are still in that place of art. Are you still dabbling in the world of art at this point?

No, but my interest in things creative has taken a lot of different twists and turns. After the museum school in Boston, I wound up at Brown where I majored in History. I wound up a couple of Art History degree credits short of a double major in Fine Art. It remained a passion of mine, and yet writing is equally important to me. Over the years, my creative impulses have been channeled into writing. Art still means a lot to me. It matters a lot to me. I care deeply about art. I've just wound up spending a lot more time in writing. I read passionately but I also find that writing is an important part of my process as a coach.

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I love what you answered, but what I was asking about is when you landed in California, what was your profession or what was the first thing you did as a job when you were there?

As a History major, I was simultaneously qualified to do almost anything and unqualified to do anything. I feel well served by my experience as a Liberal Arts major because I thought it trained me how to think and how to write. It didn't necessarily set me on any particular course, and I feel very lucky to be a liberal arts major who ultimately wound up with a clear career goal, but that came later.

At the time, I wound up as a journalist. It was a pretty rapid sequence of careers. I spent two years as a journalist and found it very rewarding. It enabled me to drop into all different people's lives. Also, all kinds of organizations and businesses and learned a lot about what was going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. It got me particularly interested in the challenge of homelessness, which remains an ongoing crisis. At that time, it had a particular flavor.

I was very surprised to see the number of homeless families in the San Francisco Bay area and said, “I don't want to just write about this. I want to become more intimately involved.” That led to a subsequent career in social services where I worked with organizations that served homeless and low-income families. This was in the '90s. It was pre-web when a lot of technology that organizations like that might have access to was very much in its infancy.

I'm not a trained technologist, but thanks to my family, I've had exposure to technology and often knew a little bit more about technology than the people I was working around. That was very much the case during my time in social services. There is this whole wave of technology that can be used to raise funding, administer services, track outcomes, and reach out to various stakeholders.

A whole wave of technology is used to raise funding, administer services, and track outcomes.

Many nonprofit, organizations, and NGOs are not incentivized to take risks with regard to new technology. There was often a lot of conservatism or skepticism about the applicability of technology. Again, this was in the '90s before a lot of what we see now was even available. That's what first led me to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The GSB is a great place if you're interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and social impact. I was interested in all three, so I wound up there, which was also a surprising destination for a guy who had been to art school and was a History major.

After that, I wound up working precisely at that intersection of NGOs and technology. After graduation, I was tapped to be the first Executive Director of a group called the Nonprofit Technology Network, NTEN. That was a very fulfilling experience. In the midst of that, I had what I would call another flashpoint, which was my introduction to coaching.

I was tasked with taking this organization that had a little bit of startup funding and conceptual plan and turning it into something real, living, and sustainable. I was super passionate about the ideas that it represented and I thought, “It's my job to come up with the best ideas and champion them aggressively.” I thought that was my vision of leadership. Predictably, that led me to some conflicts with people on my board of directors.

I had a guy on my board who turned out to be a mentor. A guy named Ben. He essentially took me aside and, in kind but consequential words, said, “You're a talented young guy. You have some rough edges. I encourage you to go get a coach.” I didn't know what coaching was but my dad is still living but retired and spent 50 years as a clinical psychologist. I had this sense of like, “You face some challenges, you sit down, and talk with somebody. It's not a shrink but it's a coach I get it.”

I went back to a woman who had been one of my professors at graduate school at Stanford, Mary Ann Huckabay who maintained a coaching practice. I said, “Would you take me on as a client?” She did. We had this very powerful transformative experience that helped me reconceptualize leadership and recognize, “It's not my job to come up with the best ideas and tell everybody what to do. It's my job to bring the best ideas forth out of this community of stakeholders, and then work to get alignment behind executing them.”

That was powerful. Long story short, my work with Mary Ann back in the early 2000s planted the seed that led me to become a coach in 2006 when I launched my practice. A few years later in 2009, I realized, “This is going very well. It's also quite complicated to be the best coach that I want to be. I need a coach.” I went back to Mary Ann and said, “Would you take me as a client again?” She said yes. She is still a coach now years later. We've worked together continuously since 2009. I get the experience of every day as a coach and then every couple of weeks, I go see Mary Ann and get the experience as a client.

It's so cool to hear the story because first of all, you dabbled in so many different things that are remarkable, but I think there's something about that that makes people well-founded in terms of being able to have that depth of understanding when you have been on a journey through a lot of different pits and falls in different areas.

The two words that came to mind as you're walking through this are drive for impact or this desire to make an impact which has been with you for a long time. That is what pushed you on but then realizing that impact does not always have to come from brute force. Sometimes, it's by being a catalyst by getting other people to make an impact through your being a coach.

That's very consistent with what I see many of my clients are pursuing. Essentially they realize that they add value in different ways at different stages in a company's life cycle. Early on, there's a lot of doing. There's a lot of ideation and that doesn't stop. It's not as if a leader no longer adds value if they are not coming up with some ideas, but increasingly, they have value by building a system that enables them to operate at scale and gives them greater leverage.

This also allows them to in my experience not only pour more and more hours into work. Most of my clients are deeply highly motivated. Nobody's forcing or pressuring them to work more but often, their lives get increasingly complicated. They begin an important personal relationship or get married. They have kids and maybe a couple of more kids.

Those kids who get older want them to be present in additional ways and they realize, “I want a richer and more diverse personal experience. I've got to figure out how to work not just more efficiently because it's not just about getting more stuff done but I have to work in a higher leverage way. I have to focus on where I add the greatest value so that the hours I spend working are as impactful as possible,” and then I stop.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel has this great line. “I stopped working when I was tired because a manager's work is never done. There's always more to do.” As a leader, once you reach a certain point, there's never a point where like, “The last item on my to-do list is checked off.” It's about figuring out like, “How do I add the greatest value so that I am always or as often as possible focused on the most important highest leverage activities.” I also get to live a life and spend time with my family.

The thing that comes to mind around this is a sense of people question, “Can I have it all?” You can have it all but you can't do it all and you can't do it all at once. I think there's a sense that you don't have to trade off things in life, but you have to make sure that you make the choices to be present in the things that you're doing at any given time which means finding that leverage point. I love the word leverage. It's such an important aspect of finding efficiencies that allow you to know, “What should I be doing with my time?”

A way this gets framed off specifically here in Silicon Valley for sure is, “Should you be working hard or working smart?” Something I've written about in the past is that's the wrong question. There are two different contexts. The shorter the time frame on a given day, you're going to reach a point where you will achieve diminishing returns for each hour and invest it. You're biological organisms. You need to sleep. Also, you're not going to do your best thinking if you're poorly rested.

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You're going to put in long hours sometimes and there will be an eighteen-hours-a-day all-hands-on-deck crisis, but that can't persist for very long. Otherwise, you're going to grind yourself down. However, the longer the time frame we consider, whether it's a quarter, a year, or a career, the consistent effort showing up every day allows you to maximize the return on your investment time.

I encourage people to think, “What is the context,” because if we're looking at a given day, then we should be well rested. You're going to make your best decisions. You're going to manage your emotions more effectively which for a leader is so important because the leaders’ emotions are contagious. Everybody's looking at the leader to understand how they feel because that may have to vary on how I feel.

Over time, the ability to day in and day out or years on end show up very consistently yields increasing returns, the idea of compound interest in your career. I feel like I experience that myself very personally because I coach all day every day. I do feel like I'm very privileged in loving what I do and realizing what feels like a compounding interest in my dedication to my craft. Also, that doesn't come about because what I’ve dealt with comes about because I do it a lot.

I love this consistency message, which is awesome. Also, there's a sense of you leading by example, which is powerful for your clients. I'm going to move you in this path of telling us the story of getting on the farm which would be powerful to understand. What did you learn about yourself in this move that you share with your clients?

It's a very unexpected story and it goes back to my life with Amy and our childhood or our shared youth. We were friends before we started dating. We knew each other and she grew up on a farm. The area where we grew up was in the suburbs of the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was still turning from farmland to suburbs. Her parents had a little farm.

It was a hardscrabble place everywhere which took a lot of work. It was not particularly lucrative, but it taught her a lot, including the fact that she grew up with a horse. She had a horse that she rode around as a little girl on the property until College when her parents moved away, and sold the farm and the horse. Fast forward several decades, Amy had continued to ride a little bit over the years but a trail ride program was offering a pilot in Golden Gate Park. Amy was like, “It seems interesting to me. I'll give it a shot.”

She rediscovered her passion for horses which long story short, let her rescue a horse from a trail ride outfit on the coast. This guy named Merlin wound up and he proved he's an amazing animal. He's around 30. He is pretty old for a horse, but he reached a point where he's no longer sound. He wasn't rideable but Amy was deeply dedicated and devoted to him. She wanted to continue to contribute to his care.

She retired him to a ranch up here in Sonoma County not far from where we are now. She wanted to be able to continue to spend time with him because she developed this quite meaningful relationship with him. She found a place where we could stay and visit. Through those visits, we wound up getting to know the owners of this farm by spending more and more time up here. We had become interested in the Northern Marin and Sonoma counties.

We used to spend a lot of time up in Mendocino as well. We thought we might retire up here someday, but our lives were still very much rooted in San Francisco at the time. I was going down to Stanford one day a week. I was at Stanford in a full-time capacity for many years but starting in 2016, I was going down there once a week to teach. I thought, “I'm probably enough to keep doing that for a long time.” Amy's work was in San Francisco at the time and we thought we would we would have to live there.

My practice was largely in person in San Francisco's financial district. I've always had a portion of my practice virtual. Suddenly, the pandemic changed everything. The pandemic meant that my practice went from probably two-thirds in-person to 100% virtual. I continued teaching virtually for a couple of years, but ultimately, chose to retire not because of the pandemic but for a variety of reasons.

I retired from Stanford. The last time I taught was in 2021 and then I formally retired at the beginning of this year. Amy retired from her work and we decided, there's nothing keeping us in San Francisco anymore. We're going to see what we can find up North. We let the owners of this farm know. They said, “Why do you rent this place from us?” We now find ourselves living in a farmhouse in the middle of a working sheep and cattle ranch.

We're not responsible for the livestock, which is good. I don't know anything about animals, except a little bit about dogs, which I've learned in the last couple of years. Amy visits her horses who are boarded on another ranch not far from here. It's a very unexpected existence for two people who lived in a city for 30 years. Amy what she's doing up here when it comes to a lot of farm and outdoor stuff. I don't. I'm still very much learning what it means to live in the middle of a farm country.

You're still a city slicker trying to get rid of that element.

I remember you calling me city slicker, but I feel like a fish out of water some days. It has been an immense learning experience including being very much in touch with the natural world and the life cycle. We're so much more affected by the elements and you see many aspects of life and death. At this point, there are probably about 60 or 70 sheep in the flock. There are two dozen cattle in the herd. We're not responsible for them, but we interact with them a bit especially the sheep because the pastures surround the house. I've learned a lot about life and death in part from being immersed in this very unexpected animal world.

It's so cool that you share because first of all, people often get stuck in patterns. We mentioned this idea of patterns before we started the show, but this idea of accepting things as they are and we think we can't change or they can't get out of that. The story that you shared is a sense that, you can change things up. There are many possibilities, but you have to be willing to get out of that mode. That this is how things get done and therefore, I'm stuck here with this.

That's not true. There are a lot of ways to shift things out and the sense of moving into a different environment can be an amazing learning opportunity. I always talk about the explorer mindset which is a sense that when you get out and travel, you've learned so much about yourself and the world, especially about yourself because you learn about how you adapt to situations that are foreign to you. Being on a farm, if you're not from a farm, is foreign.

When you get out and travel, you will learn so much about yourself and the world.

We wound up moving in a direction that we were already headed but we were rapidly accelerated down that path by the pandemic. Change was forced upon us. I think for me, a big part of the learning experience has been coming to grips with the change that was imposed. Again, we got extremely lucky. I know many people including members of my own family who were so much more seriously impacted negatively by the pandemic and our experience has been in contrast relatively easy, but it was still challenging which is also the case for plenty of my clients.

I want to talk more about your practice and hear from you what have been the thing things you've learned the most through your coaching journey with the people you work with that you want to share. Maybe some key insights from your coaching that you feel most people get wrong about coaching.

First, it’s normalizing coaching. You mentioned that when I started coaching it was in its infancy. It's become a lot more popular. It's become much more widely prevalent, normalized, and accepted. I still very much benefited from the members of the coaching community who were extremely generous and gracious to me with my time.

I reached out to the community of people who were associated with me who were either new through the Stanford Network or the Bay Area. A guy named Joe Murphy took me under his wing and trained me for a year. It made all the difference. People like Rebecca Zucker, Andrea Corney, and Ricki Frankel were incredible. They were incredibly generous guides and teachers. Something that they all impressed upon me to help me see was that coaching was very much changing.

It had begun some decades previous and was always very much perceived as a corrective measure for underperformers. That's still occasionally the case now, but it's much more broadly seen as an investment in high performance. Maximizing the effectiveness and fulfillment that already capable leaders can experience. That's been the big a-ha. I was lucky to be coming into the field at a moment when it was changing and transforming.

These days occasionally, I still come across folks from certain industries or certain parts of the world where coaching is still a few that way. Is that an okay thing or do you go see a coach when you're in trouble? Often, my work there is something that's leading somebody to give some thought to, “I do have a challenge that I'd like to resolve,” just as I did in 2001 when I was advised by Vince to get a coach. There was a challenge but certainly, it's not viewed as something punitive. It's not viewed as, “You've screwed up. Therefore, you got to get a coach.”

Again, that still happens occasionally on the margins but much less frequently. It's viewed as normal and in some cases, I would even say normative. Certainly, if you a tech CEO in the Bay Area, most of your peers probably have a coach. If you don't, you may be getting some questions from investors. They say, “Why don't you work with a coach more?” Certainly, a topic that I think a lot about and work with a lot of clients on is organizational culture.

One way that I spend a lot of time thinking about it is the contrast between a high accountability culture and a high empathy culture. We have many mental models of organizations that are one or the other, the high accountability and low empathy culture. I think of it as a boot camp and there are literal boot camps. The Marines run and there are companies that are like boot camps. That's a way to run an organization but you better have a long list of people, a long line of people who can't wait to get into the door.

It’s a learning model. That's what that looks like.

You bet, and that's neither good nor bad, but if you've got the ability to run a boot camp, that may be your needs, but it probably won't be all. It certainly isn't going to meet many of the needs of the people who won't be able to cut it in that environment. However, the contrast is equally problematic. Very high empathy and low accountability cultures. I call them daycares. You can run a daycare but you better have a deep pool of resources to continue throwing at people to keep them satisfied.

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You're also going to have a lot of people who will not find that environment particularly welcoming. I know a lot of folks who've said and I think there's something prevalent in a lot of contemporary organizations where they feel, “We have to ensure that everybody is happy and satisfied all the time. We can't hold them accountable or they're going to get unhappy.” That can often lead to low performance and a sense of unfulfillment and certainly, if you are an ambitious person who wants to achieve something meaningful and have an impact on the world.

A lot of my work with clients involves, “How do you get the best of both worlds? How do you craft and sustain a high accountability and high empathy culture?” There's no blueprint. There's no cookie-cutter solution, but there are lots of steps that leaders can take to begin to do both. Something that I emphasize in that context is that empathy is not agreement. It’s critically important especially if you want a high empathy and high accountability culture.

You have to empathize with people. Especially as a leader, you're going to be asking them to do some challenging things. Often, that might leave them feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or frustrated at you. You have to empathize with that. That doesn't mean you necessarily agree with the rationale for those feelings or with the alternative solutions being proposed but if you can learn to express empathy as a leader without necessarily agreeing that's a meaningful and significant step toward building a high empathy high accountability culture.

If you want a high empathy and accountability culture, you should empathize with people.

It was beautifully said. I feel like it was a master class in creating that paradoxical feeling that you do need to balance both sides of it. What came to mind for me was also the sense that we're not here to please people. We are here to serve people. If you overly index on this like, “I want to please everyone. I want to be a people pleaser.” We know how those things work out. You burn yourself out in the process of trying to do that and then ultimately, what happens is they leave anyway.

It both burns the leader out and sometimes leads leaders to overcorrect. “I'm done trying to please people so I'm just going to be a hard-ass.” That is rarely a fulfilling way to lead. There are many people who find that uninspiring and unwelcome. It's not about a good or bad model. It's like, “Does this model suit the conditions in which you're operating as an organization?” Some organizations are effective boot camps and some organizations are effective daycares, but they tend to have a unique set of conditions that make that possible.

We're coming to the close of our time together and I feel like I have so many questions I want to ask. Before our last question, I will ask one other question which is, “What have you learned about yourself in this journey that you feel is an important lesson that you haven't shared already?”

It's connected to what I suspect your last question is going to be about the books that have had a big impact on me. I'll name one of them which is a book called The Denial of Death, which sounds heavy, and it is. It was written by a guy named Ernest Becker who was training an anthropologist. He was a professor of anthropology, but I think it's fair to think of him as a philosopher. The book was published in 1973 before he died in 1974 at the young age of 50. He died of cancer.VCP 230 | Improving Leadership

Undoubtedly, was writing this book. It's his penultimate book. One more book came up before he died. He was aware of the challenges of his personal illness and difficulties when he wrote it. His big idea is basically that all human behavior is driven by this fear of mortality. A phrase has been coined that I don't believe Becker used but it was called Terror Management Theory.

Some psychologists have described Becker's work as being in that bucket. That camp that essentially what we're trying to do is the terror in the face of our mortality. We're so terrified by the prospect of non-existence. Becker says that our effort, and we pursue that through what he calls heroic projects or efforts to essentially transcend mortality. These take any number of forms. One is raising a family. It is this idea of, “My progeny will live on and a piece of me will live on with them.”

Another is also absolutely building a business. I will leave some kind of professional legacy or pursue other kinds of creative endeavors. It could be anything from writing an art to building an institution. Certainly, another is membership and participation in a spiritual community. Also, a sense of transcendence. Connecting something larger than ourselves. Whatever we believe about what does follow this existence, we can all agree that this existence itself is finite.

Whatever we believe about how we may be transformed and how we might transcend mortality. Our corporeal existence here is limited. In some way, these heroic projects are bound to fail. We have to be thoughtful about how we choose them because in many cases, they're chosen for us. Becker is not saying, “Don't pursue these heroic projects.” Becker is saying, “Absolutely.” That's how we overcome our fear of mortality. It's how we live with the reality of mortality and yet we've got to be thoughtful about the ways in which we enlist ourselves in these projects.

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Coming back to me, when I encountered this guy's work some years ago, it blew my mind. I take a step back and say, “I do see so much of human behaviors being driven by an effort to build something lasting that allows us to believe that we're on a path to transcend mortality, yet what form does that take for me?” Amy and I have chosen not to become parents and that was the right choice for us, but it certainly also leaves me clear. “There's a gap in my life experience. It's not going to get filled.”

That's not a heroic project that I can pursue. I'm not building a business. I'm not building an institution. I'm not leaving behind the company, and that's also deliberate. I work alone. I'm a solo practitioner. I like that for lots of reasons, but what is the legacy that I'm leaving behind with that institution? I've concluded it's one of the reasons why I'm so devoted to coaching. I love what I do and it is absolutely the thing I was put on this planet to do.

My hope is that I have some meaningful impact on both the lives of my clients as well as on the lives of their employees and the lives of their customers. I get the chance to get a look into dozens and dozens of businesses every month and it feels meaningful to me in some part because I’m like, “That's my heroic project.” Coaching is my heroic project.

That was truly inspirational. I know we started off on a dark note, but I think we have to know the mortality of who we are before we can get to know this is where we need to choose our path. Choose our contribution and where our contribution most makes sense. The fact that you found and gotten clarity on what that is is amazing. A lot of people still struggle to figure out, “Where is mine? Am I doing it the right way? Have I chosen the wrong path and that stuff?” Hearing this person who has a concrete feeling of, “This is who I am meant to be. This is who I am,” is amazing.

I feel very lucky and as a note of encouragement to anybody who doesn't feel that, I launched my coaching practice when I was 39. I had already gone through several careers. I'd been a journalist. I had been in social services. I've been in nonprofit technology. All of which were very inspiring to me and then ultimately somewhat disappointing to me. I felt a little late when I launched my practice and I wouldn't change any of that.

It’s because many of the experiences that I had both as an entrepreneur and as a leader are both successful and unsuccessful. My failures taught me tons that contributed to my ability to be a coach. I was incredibly lucky and very gifted with lots of mentors along the way who helped me but I was 39. It was an age when I think a lot of people feel like, “I'm not capable of starting something new.” I did that. With a little luck and the right mindset, anybody can.

The last question I have to ask is what are 1, 2, or 3 books that have had an impact on you and why?

In addition to Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death, which has this very philosophical perspective, two other books that mean a ton to me, one is called Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help by a man named Edgar Schein. He taught at MIT for many years. He had passed away in his 90s. This is a very pragmatic book about any helping relationship, but you don't have to be in a helping profession. I recommend it regularly to leaders who are thinking about trying to offer support and guidance to their employees in a way other than giving direction.

It's super accessible. It's very pragmatic. One of the things that I think is so notable is he talks a lot about the complexities and ambiguities of the helping relationship. It's also informed my approach to coaching very deeply. He emphasizes that you have to be thoughtfully attuned to the power dynamics and helping relationship because it's a subtle ego boost to be the helper, which is also potentially a trap for us as coaches if we step in trying to be helpful. We can often inflict help unknowingly.

Being very mindful about managing the power dynamics in a helping relationship and ensuring that both parties feel like equal partners and not that there's a hierarchical dynamic is essential. The other very pragmatic book is by a man I mentioned Andy Grove. He is one of the cofounders and the CEO of Intel. His book High Output Management is the first book that he wrote in 1983. It’s chockfull of these genius ideas. There are some chapters and you're like, “This is a little bit of a slug, but I think he wrote it not knowing that it was going to be successful or that he was going to write another book.” He also wrote another book that I highly recommend.

He threw everything he knew about organizational life, management, and the leader's experience into this book. One of the things that's so interesting about it is that he was a he was chemical engineer by training and he brings that mindset to the leader’s experience. He says, “You as a leader of a factory manage time.” If you don't understand where your time and your attention are going, you're going to undershoot your potential as a leader. He's very deliberate. He's very pragmatic. Again, it's one of those books that’s mentioned a lot in Silicon Valley circles, but I don't know that people go and read it. I highly recommend Andy Grove because I think it's one of the books that I refer to and for clients to a very regularly.

I love it because here you are recommending two very interesting books that are deep cuts. When you think about music, people always have that they know the hits. Edgar Schein has hits like Humble Inquiry and Humble Leadership. I've read Andy Grove’s newer books, but I don't think I have a copy of High Output Management. I'm going to have to go dig that up.

I'm delighted to hear it. Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you something. It’s a little homework for you. You have a background that is very interesting to me. My understanding of your career is that you spent a long time as a finance and accounting executive and then transitioned into coaching. I don't think I know anybody else who's got that path. What's your flashpoint? How did you go from this long career in finance and accounting to coaching? That's very unusual.

Thank you so much for asking. For me, it was this moment of realizing that I wasn't doing the work I was meant for. A lot of people reflected on me saying that you're not the typical finance person. More and more, I started to listen and decided. At this one particular moment, I was sitting in a boardroom, and I decided that I'm done doing this. I decide to walk out.

On my walk-out moment, I said to myself I'm going to leave this room to change this room. That's what I did. I left the room and decided that I was going to become a coach. That's what I did but I had a couple of moments beyond that was the biggest moment that defined my next step and I'm not looking back.

I’m delighted here. I'm also guessing that having that background as an operator probably gives you a unique perspective especially when you're working with anybody who's in a similar discipline and facing challenges that you've faced before.

You can't turn around and put your past behind you. You have to embrace it. As I always say, “Transcend and include.” You include your past but you have to transcend it and say, “How am I using it as a gift for the future,” which is often what I do here in the show to try to help people to understand their past so it's not something that is dragging them down. Instead, it is something they're using as a force of good.

You can't turn around and put your past behind you. You have to embrace it.

Thanks for sharing that with me.

I love this this show. This was so great. Your stories were amazing. Your insights were phenomenal. Before I let you go, I want to make sure that everyone who is reading knows where to find you. What's the best place to reach out?

Thank you so much. It's my website is where I write. I write pieces that sometimes are on the logger side, but I try to be thoughtful and not tax people's patience too much. I don't publish that often. I publish a couple of posts a month. I'm on Twitter whatever they're calling it these days. I mainly post there about my dog. As you mentioned, I also put out a monthly newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter on my site. There's a little link to that. It comes out once a month. I always include a personal essay that touches on my life here on the farm and then some other resources that people will be interested in.

This was amazing, Ed. Thank you so much and thanks to the readers for coming on this journey with us. I know you're leaving inspired to go out and make some changes in the world you're in. Thank you.

Thanks for having me, Tony.

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